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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's order to strip $272,000 in federal funding from Planned Parenthood Association of Utah was likely made to "punish" the organization, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
In a 2-1 decision, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a preliminary injunction to Planned Parenthood, reversing a lower court ruling and maintaining the flow of federal funds to the reproductive-health organization.
"We are absolutely elated with the court's ruling," Karrie Galloway, director of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in a news release. "This is a major victory for our patients, and for health care providers in Utah who want to provide services to Utahns free of discrimination,"
Herbert initiated the funding block in August after a series of hidden-camera videos were released by the Center for Medical Progress, or CMP, alleging that Planned Parenthood clinics were illegally selling fetal tissue.
Utah clinics were not included in the videos, which later were determined to be inaccurate and misleading. Herbert stood by his decision to cut the organization's funding, citing the casual and callous way that national Planned Parenthood staff members were shown discussing abortion.
"I believe we're on solid footing," he said in March, after the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah filed for and temporarily received a restraining order against the state.
In its Tuesday ruling, the judicial panel for the 10th Circuit made frequent mention of Herbert's politics, concluding that the governor's personal opposition to abortion could likely be demonstrated as a motivation for blocking Planned Parenthood's funds.
Because Utah's Planned Parenthood clinics were shown to be operating lawfully, the ruling states, it is reasonable that Herbert was targeting the reproductive-health organization for its abortion services and pro-abortion advocacy efforts, in violation of constitutional protections for speech and association.
"In particular, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert, a politician and admitted opponent of abortion, viewed the situation that presented itself by release of the CMP videos as an opportunity to take public action against PPAU, deprive it of pass-through federal funding, and potentially weaken the organization and hamper its ability to provide and advocate for abortion services."
While the injunction maintains the flow of federal funding to Planned Parenthood, it does not conclude the lawsuit between Herbert and Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
In a prepared statement, Herbert's spokesman Jon Cox said the governor was disappointed with the court's decision.
"He believes that it is in the public's best interest to allow state officials to make contract decisions on behalf of the state, rather than a distant federal court," Cox said. "The governor will work with the attorney general to review the court's decision and determine the best course of action moving forward."
But Galloway described the issue as finalized, saying that state contracts for Planned Parenthood had already been renewed through the end of their terms.
"We have won," she said. "At this point, as far as we are concerned, the lawsuit is over."
Planned Parenthood attorney Peggy Tomsic said Tuesday's ruling set a precedent by placing the needs of citizens above the ability of a governor to interfere with federal funding without cause.
She said it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars for Herbert and the state to continue challenging the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
"The ball is in their court," Tomsic said. "If they really choose to go forward, we will fight."